Off To The Races! Indian-Americans count some significant wins in May 8 primaries

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Mujtaba Mohammed raises his hands at the victory party for his victory in the Democratic primary for State Senate from District 38 in North Carolina May 8. (Photo courtesy Mujtaba Mohammed)

Even as high-profile candidates grabbed national attention in the May 8 primaries in four states (Ohio, North Carolina, West Virginia, Indiana), more significant results for the Indian-American community lay beyond those headlines.

At least 2 Indian-American candidates won their primaries in competitive races, one in North Carolina running for State Senate against a three-term incumbent, and the other for the Ohio State House. A South Asian (Pakistani-American) candidate in North Carolina made a great showing despite losing the primary; and the fact that several Indian-Americans had no opponents within their parties, two in Congressional races in Ohio, one in a State level race in North Carolina, and another in Indiana, means a potential for increase in the number of Indian-American lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and several state capitals, come November.

OHIO

Predictions by some analysts that the Ohio State House District 42 Republican primary was competitive, and “a race to watch” were proved dead wrong by incumbent State Rep. Niraj Antani. Leading by a wide margin of 63 percent of the vote, Antani handily defeated his closest opponent,  Miamisburg Vice Mayor Sarah M. Clark (28 percent), and a 3rd Republican contender, Marcus Rech of Miamisburg (9 percent)

Barely an hour after polls closed at 7:30 pm, Antani was up and running far ahead – with 11 percent reporting (8 of 73 precincts) Antani bagged 71 percent of the vote to Clark’s 22 percent; Another hour, and the trend was more than clear with 85 percent reporting from 62 of the 73 precincts, Antani had 62 percent of the vote to his opponents, 29 percent and 9 percent. He gained another 1 percent by close of counting.

Ohio State Rep. Niraj Antani

The youngest lawmaker since his first win 3 years ago, Antani, 26, faces off on Nov. 6, against Zach Dickerson, also a youthful Democrat who defeated his opponent with 56 percent of the vote in the primary. The 42nd State House District is Republican leaning, evident from the number of voters who showed up from both sides of the aisle – 10,755 Republicans voted in their primary; less than half that, 4, 393 Democrats came to the polls. If that is any indication, the Nov. 6 Midterms should bring Antani back to the Ohio State House as the only Indian-American lawmaker there. He secured 6,780 of the 10,755 total votes cast, compared to Dickerson’s 2, 482 votes out of the total 4,393.

“My opponents worked very hard and tried to make it a competitive race,” Antani told News India Times. “The results show I have a strong base in my district and have worked very hard and delivered results,” he added. His selling point, he said, was “the cumulative total of delivering results and solving problems,” adding that his focus has been job creation, workforce development and affordable higher education, as well as building a strong business climate. All these are “important issues for Indian-Americans,” he noted, emphasizing that he “had a strong base in the Indian-American community” and would continue to represent it.

The first Republican Indian-American elected official in Ohio history, and 2nd after Jay Goyal, a Democrat (2007-2013), Antani has served as vice-chairman of the Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, as well as a member of the Committee on Health, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Committee on Aging and Long Term Care, and the Committee on Community and Family Advancement.

In Ohio, another Indian-American with a fair chance at the U.S. Congress, Aftab Pureval, was unopposed in the Democratic primary from District 1. He will be facing off against incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who defeated his opponent Samuel Ronan by a vast margin (83.2 percent to 16.8 percent). The Democratic Party is banking on Pureval to turn a Red seat to Blue come Nov. 6, because it feels the mood has changed nationally and locally to favor Democrats, in an environment where President Trump’s popularity ratings are down.

NORTH CAROLINA

An Indian-American attorney in North Carolina achieved the gargantuan task of defeating a three-term incumbent from his own Democratic party. Mujtaba Mohammed, born in the U.S. to Indian parents, jumped into a State Senate primary from District 38 in North Carolina, his first foray into electoral politics, to soundly defeat three-term incumbent Joel Ford, winning 51.9 percent of the vote to Ford’s 40.71 percent.

Democrat Mujtaba Mohammed, an Indian-American public interest lawyer in North Carolina, won a competitive primary May 8, when he defeated a three-term incumbent from his own party. (Photo: Facebook)

“I appreciate Joel Ford’s service. I felt it was incumbent upon me to run having served the underprivileged all my life, having been in the trenches from where we see the failures of government, a lot of people felt he was out of step with our true democratic values,” the public interest lawyer told News India Times. “We are talking economic mobility, strong public schools, public safety based on building people not prisons,” said Mohammed who has served as assistant public defender at the  Mecklenburg County Public Defender’s Office; was a staff attorney and on the board of directors at Council for Children’s Rights; a community representative at Leading on Opportunity Council, was the former vice chair of the Mecklenburg County Democratic Party, and the 12th Congressional District Representative on Council of Review.

District 38 is Democrat-leaning and Mohammed will probably win the seat to the State Senate Nov. 6, against Republican  Richard Rivette, who ran unopposed in his party primary. Mohammed would then become the 2nd Indian-American in the Upper House, the other being incumbent Democrat Jay Chaudhuri, who was unopposed in his primary from N.C. State Senate District 16. This district is heavily Democratic, so Chaudhuri will be re-elected to office in November, obvious also from his past record. In the 2016 general elections, Chaudhuri won his seat with 65.33 percent to Republican Eric Weaver’s 34.67 percent. In the 2016 Democratic primary, he defeated Ellis Hankins – getting 62.93 percent of the vote to her 37.07 percent. Chaudhuri’s opponents in November are Republican Alan David Michael, and Libertarian Brian Lewis.

North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri, with his family. Chaudhuri was unopposed in the May 8 Democratic primary and is expected to sail through to re-election Nov. 6, in the Democrat-leaning District 16. (Photo: jayfornc.com)

Meanwhile, Chaudhuri, like others in safe seats, has been busy promoting and raising funds for other party candidates and working with the Democratic governor to break the Republican majority in the North Carolina legislature, fielding candidates for all 170 seats for the first time in history, and raising “record” amounts of funds for campaigns, he said.

“In North Carolina we have a record number of Indian-American state and local elected officials, and that’s because of a combination of the emphasis on public service among immigrants and the historically welcoming approach the state has to immigrants,” Chaudhuri told News India Times. Apart from the state level, North Carolina has one Indian-American city councilmember in Ashville, another in Charlotte, and 2 in Morrisville, Chaudhuri’s old district.

Dr. Naveed Aziz, who made an impressive showing in the May 8 Democratic primary in North Carolina, in her bid for the state senate from District21. (Photo: campaign website)

The story of the May 8 primaries in North Carolina would not be complete without mentioning Dr. Naveed Aziz, a Pakistani-American who ran in the primary for State Senate District 21, against incumbent and fellow Democrat Ben Clark, making quite a dent with the vote that got behind her. She secured an impressive 44.40 percent of the vote to Clark’s 55.60, indicating her potential to run for future office. Aziz had run for the same seat back in 2016. According to her website Aziz wants to “build the economy of tomorrow” by investing in the people of today, meaningful healthcare, quality public education, and support for women and their families.

WEST VIRGINIA

West Virginia saw another Pakistani-American woman, Dr. Ayne Amjad, running for the U.S. House of Representatives from the 3rd Congressional District in the southern part of the state. She is the daughter of Dr. Hassan Amjad, originally from Pakistan, who practiced in the Beckley and Oak Hill area for four decades or more till his death in August last year, and was dearly loved and is remembered by the community.

Dr. Ayne Amjad, who ran for and lost the Republican primary from District in West Virginia May 8. (Photo: Ayne Amjad for Congress website)

Her’s was an unwinnable race, as Dr. Ayne Amjad was one of 7 Republicans vying for party endorsement for Congress. It was won by Carol Miller with 23.78 percent of the vote. Dr. Amjad secured 7.43 percent. Her priorities, outlined on her election website included,  “a whole community approach to fight the opioid crisis, improving healthcare outcomes, reducing the costs of prescription medications, creating stronger job opportunities, and revamping school-to-work programs.” Born and raised in Beckley, Raleigh County, where she also lives today, Dr. Amjad graduated from Virginia Tech with a biochemistry degree, and has a Masters in Public Health from West Virginia University and her medical degree from Marshall University.

INDIANA

On May 8, Indian-Americans Poonam Gill, and Yatish Joshi, both Democrats ran for office at the state and federal level in Indiana. Gill had no contest to win in her race for the Indiana State House of Representatives, running unopposed in the Democratic primary from District 88. Republican incumbent Brian Bosma, her opponent was also unopposed.

Joshi, a businessman who has lived in Northern Indiana for four decades, had a more ambitious agenda – to win the six-way Democratic primary for the U.S. House, from Congressional District 2. He received 11.86 percent of the vote, ranking 3rd among the 6 candidates, with Mel Hall grabbing more than 47 percent to face off against Republican incumbent Jackie Walosrski in November.

Poonam Gill, who ran unopposed in the Indiana Democratic primary from Districe 88, on May 8. (Photo: Facebook)

Gill, according to her election website, is a resident of Fishers, Ind., was born and raised in Indianapolis to Indian parents. An electrical engineering graduate from Purdue University, Indiana, Gill has worked in the private sector and led many after-school programs that promote STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math). She is the Outreach Chair for the Hamilton County Democratic Party, organizing volunteering opportunities and increasing civic engagement.

She has been endorsed by the organization, Asian Americans Run For Something, a non-profit launched in 2017, to support grassroots campaigns to elect progressive candidates. According to an article in Current, March 6, Gill was motivated to run “after recognizing the disparity between the number of men and women in elected office.”

“When we have 50 percent of our voting public in Indiana as women but only 20 percent of our elected officials are women, we have to somehow close that gap,” she is quoted saying in Current, asking, “How do we do that?” and answering her own question, “We have to be willing to step up and get involved.”

That national awareness about the need for women leaders, has been felt within the Indian-American community as well, says Chaudhuri of North Carolina. “What we’re seeing as far as individuals running for office, is the same as the national trend – record number of women and record number of people of color, running,” said Chaudhuri.

“As Indian-Americans, we have to make sure we create new leaders – a bench of future leaders. Our parents set the foundation. We are always taught that it’s about family and community,” emphasized Mohammed